Bashful developer Richard Barrett was probably once enamoured with Dalkey. After all, his company is called Bartra Capital, and the ‘Gold Coast’ of south Co Dublin is festooned with stately piles and even a Martello tower bearing the same name.
But Bullock Harbour, on the outskirts of the village, has become a battleground for Bartra as the developer seeks to turn an old boatyard into a high-end development, with homes that some speculate could cost millions.
“It’s going to be three storeys high — with a lift,” says a local resident, referring to the proposed trophy homes, adding: “Sure, Bono is the only one around here with enough money to buy something like that.”
The speaker seems oblivious to the obvious wealth that oozes from the coastal mansions set atop granite outcrops looking out over the curving grandeur of Dublin Bay.
Barrett, along with his then partner Johnny Ronan, built the Convention Centre in Dublin, bought Battersea Power Station in London and erected high-rise towers in Shanghai during the boom years. Now, much closer to home, he seems to have encountered more obstacles to his plans than most of his other developments put together.
The four-year war of attrition has seen the plan turned down by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC), opposed by An Bord Pleanála’s own inspector and thwarted by local residents Pat and Kathy Kenny (over badgers living in the neighbourhood) before it was granted permission by the board — only to then have it annulled.
Now Barrett is back with a softer proposal, possibly aimed at tempting his opponents, including the Bullock Harbour Preservation Association, into taking a more conciliatory line on his proposals for the small 19th century harbour that is now mostly used by lobster and crab fishermen.
It is almost Mediterranean in aspect, apart from when you gaze landward toward the bulk of Our Lady’s Manor nursing home. Once derided, along with its owners, as “The Little Sisters of the Rich” by the writer Hugh Leonard, there is a certain irony in that they later took him in and he died there.
Thursday afternoon at Bullock Harbour, and the odd dog-walker is enjoying the mid-January sunshine. Upended boats line the quayside. It’s as dead as a doornail, apart from a flock of herring gulls squabbling over a dead crab in the mud.
“They’ll get what they want,” predicts one local of the latest Bartra planning application, “and when they get what they want, they’ll look for more.”
Bartra Property (Dublin) Ltd, incorporated in 2016 and controlled by Barrett’s Hong Kong-based holding company, withdrew its original planning application recently, and in the past 10 days lodged a new one.
It wants to demolish the “industrial structure” that once housed Western Marine and replace it with a three-storey building to include a cafe, a split-level four-bedroomed apartment, seafood sales outlet, fishermen’s huts, a public square fronting the harbour and three three-storey detached houses.
It is a markedly different proposal to the one that was rejected, but previous experience has left many local people weary and suspicious.
Newstalk presenter Pat Kenny, who said the previous plan “defied common sense”, acknowledged he has seen the latest planning notice, but will not comment on the most recent application until he has studied the proposal in more detail.
Miss Smyth — she declines to give her first name — stands in the front garden of the last of a straggle of cottages on the right-hand side as you approach the old boarded-up industrial sheds at the centre of the dispute.
“This has been here for about 200 years,” she says, indicating the blue-painted cottage where she lives. “Why was there no other dwelling built? For one simple reason — flooding. There has never been a house built past or behind our house.”
She graphically describes rocks being swept against the back wall and hitting the cottage roof during Storm Emma in 2018.
“We’re only living here because it’s an inherited way of life,” Miss Smyth adds. “People see it as a lovely place to live — but only if we had summer for 12 months.”
Her family have been in Castle View Cottage since 1919. “We’re not of the village, we’re town people,” she says. When deciphered, this is a reference to the old Dalkey, a township until it was amalgamated, along with Blackrock, with Dún Laoghaire for administrative purposes on October 1, 1930.
Nor does she hold with dryrobes or people walking around with cardboard cups of coffee. She even concedes that her home might never have been built if the impact of storms and high winds had been taken into account at the time.
The previous application by Bartra was rejected by DLRCC on the grounds that “given the prominent quayside and coastal location… and taking into account the special character of the immediate harbour area, it is considered that the proposed development does not provide a suitably integrated high-quality, mixed-use design” and would be “seriously injurious to the special character and amenities of the harbour area”.
Something will eventually have to be done with the old Western Marine site, which is now an eyesore. Although the location is beautiful, there isn’t really anything to keep people in the harbour, apart from two portaloos. There is so much building going on around the area that it seems unlikely it could forever escape the winds of change.
Eighteen months after the last Battle of Bullock Harbour ended in defeat for Bartra, might local residents and developers finally come to an accommodation?
Watch this space.